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Baseball is not a movie. Stop trying to dramatize it.

Feb 6, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

Brief Encounter

I think I stumbled upon the single most significant thing said about the entire baseball-PEDs story. The writer, Tom Verducci, likely did not realize he was saying the most significant thing about it all, but he did all the same.

After correctly noting that athlete after athlete has denied using PEDs in the past, only to later be found to have used them, Verducci says we can’t take anyone’s denial at face value anymore. Why?

… but we have seen how the movie ends too many times.

Thinking of this as a movie — or a grand drama of any kind — is why the discourse about PEDs has become so stupid.  When we think of it as a drama we require heroes and villains. We require quick resolution. We require a stunning, conclusive and emotionally satisfying dénouement.

But baseball isn’t a movie or a play. It’s a sport, played without a script by real living and breathing human beings.  We’ve been conditioned to think of it in dramatic terms because the sporting press developed as a means of dramatizing that which most people didn’t get a chance to see in newspaper accounts, but it is not itself a drama.

When baseball gets into the realm of PEDs and law enforcement our tendency to treat it as a drama is even stronger. Sports are often dramatized, but TV shows and movies have featured cops, doctors and lawyers more than anyone else by a factor of a million.  Put that all together and it’s almost impossible not to think of things like BALCO or the Biogenesis story in the same terms we think of “Law and Order” or “House.”

But that’s not how real life works. In real life stuff happens. If that stuff seems problematic or suspicious, it often, but not always, gets investigated. That stuff may have been motivated by evil, but it may have also been motivated by stupidity or accident or a combination of them all. Or there may be a mistake.  When the stuff gets investigated something approaching justice may result. But just as often nothing may come of it because there are dead ends or nothing particularly bad happened or because everyone just loses interest in the stuff. There may be consequences to it all or it may be meaningless.   It almost always takes a long time to determine whether the stuff meant anything or not.

That reality is really problematic for people who are used to packaging three hour ballgames into 800 word chapters and 162-game seasons into a novel, complete with heroes and villains. Which is why people in that world seem to eager to leap into this sports-legal-medical gumbo and begin to hash out plots.  It’s way easier to do that than to sit back and see what happens and what it all means. If it even means anything.

We let them do that with the games because they are, after all, just games. But when someone’s reputation, fortune, career and sometimes their very freedom is on the line, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to expect them to lay the hell off for a bit and let events unfold before they try to stuff them into the little dramatic constructs with which we’re so familiar.

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